SPU’s PUMP-OUT PILOT

It’s an increasing problem that contaminates our waterways and puts our community’s health at risk. It also impacts people experiencing homelessness who are staying in RVs, including depriving them of their dignity.  

The problem? Spills involving human waste from RVs. 

In 2019, there were almost 100 RV wastewater spills-and those are only the ones reported to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). With approximately 2,700 people living in cars and RVs in Seattle and King County, as reported in the latest one night count, and no easy way for them to safely dispose of human waste, we know many more RV spills go unreported. 

“I’ve only driven to the dump once,” said Dante, who is experiencing homelessness and currently stays in his RV.  “It’s dangerous due to the age of my RV.  The cost and logistics are hard too.” 

“The stress of not having a safe bathroom is hard to relate to for most people,” said Chris Wilkerson, RV Wastewater Program Coordinator at Seattle Public Utilities. “It has a huge negative impact on people’s physical and mental health and on the health of the surrounding community.”  

So SPU got to work, creating a pilot program that could dispose of human waste and help prevent spills. 

“This program was borne out of an increasing trend of expensive spills to our infrastructure, causing risks to public health and contamination to our water bodies,” said Ellen Stewart, Source Control and Pollution Prevention Division Director. “We decided to solve the problem at the source by starting a pilot program to provide sewage pump-out services to RV residents on a regular schedule.” 

In early 2020, SPU began partnering with Saint Vincent de Paul (SVDP), a human service agency that conducts thousands of home visits annually and offers assistance to clients, some of whom are experiencing homelessness. 

“The wastewater program in which Saint Vincent de Paul partners with Seattle Public Utilities is a classic public-private partnership that is good for the community,” said Jim Reisteter, a SVdP volunteer. “SVdP provides a home visit offering food, clothing, gas cards, toiletries, hygiene items, and sack lunches while Seattle Public Utilities provides the pump out.” 

SPU staff use a large, vacuum truck to remove waste from the RVs and safely dispose of it. 

“This program has made a tremendous difference in my life,” said Kayla, a client who has requested pump-out services.  “It has helped me to stay safe and focused on my employment.”  

“This program helps out a lot,” said Danny, another client who has requested pump-out services. “It helps keep the area clean and lets me sleep at night with one less worry.”  

Through November 10 2020, SPU successfully completed 924 pump outs in areas of the City that have a high concentration of RVs.  

“This project treats people with dignity and respect and provides an important and valuable public health service at the same time,” said Reisteter. “This is the kind of project we are pleased to be working on with the City of Seattle”.  

“I’m proud of SPU’s work to help make this a reality for our RV neighbors,” added Wilkerson. 

The pilot has led to fewer reported spills- good for our RV neighbors, good for the environment, good for our community.